GlenDronach & BenRiach “Morning Mountain Coffee, Cowboys, Bluegrass and Elk” – Scotch Whisky News

Morning mountain coffee, cowboys, bluegrass and elk

So the time and miles have flown by and I thought I would give you all another wee update of my travels. Many, many firsts, fantastic experiences and, I must admit, a few disappointments.

I recharged my batteries over the summer break and jumped straight on a plane to Taiwan. I was picked up from the airport and dropped in a hotel in the centre of Taipei. Not one for spending time in hotels I was out for a wander, a hot wind blowing and mopeds buzzing like wasps swarming. I dodged my way round the corner to the night market where what must have been miles of narrow lanes were jam-packed with stalls, cooking, selling clothes, jewellery, ect,  and gaming stands, throw a ball at this, knock over that. All bustling with the young and old, parents with children, courting couples then my Scottish frame upsetting the age old and well practiced flow of pedestrians: me doing the ‘which side are you going to pass on’ dance with every third person, oopsing and sorrying as I stepped on the foot of every fourth and totally bringing my directions flow to a standstill with a gentlemanly ‘after you’ to the people coming in the other direction. With everyone still laughing and joking, neon lights flashing and umami smells wafting, I thought I would turn in for the night. It was 2am and I had an 8am high-speed train to Taichung. The wine and spirits festival in Taichung was a small part of a larger Expo event and over the next 3 days with the power of the kilt and a smile I made friends with some fantastic people as I would take a break and walk round the massive hall; Row3, the tea twins in highland Taiwanese dress, Row 5 the cookie family who kindly kept me fed with moon cakes and a fantastic old man of 97 who was as sharp as a tack and fit as a fiddle who, in exchange for the odd dram, would keep me drip-fed with his most beautiful mountain coffee.

All in all I had 5 tastings, multiple store, warehouse and distributer visits and covered both BenRiach and GlenDronachs full core range plus exclusive bottlings for Taiwan. Every single one was received with great enthusiasm and appreciation.The other thing I’m finding out is the different ways in which people drink whisky around the world. In Taiwan, while time is taken in nosing and tasting in the traditional style, I also had the great fortune to attend a fantastic whisky dinner where dishes of every style were served to the table with 4 bottles of our whiskies on each table. Small glasses were filled and with a raise of the glass and a ‘gan bei!’, the contents would be swiftly consumed. As guest of honour and as custom dictates, I introduced myself to the other 30 or so guests and greeted them individually in this manner. As you can understand it was a fantastic night and a great way to finish my visit to a most welcoming and beautiful country.

The Sates and Canada
I started off in Dallas, and there was my first disappointment! Alistair had built a picture of Texas as cowboy boots and Stetsons and apart from a dude in Fortworth obviously returning from a rodeo due to his right hand being slung up round his left shoulder and a very painful looking limp, that was the sight of my only cowboy. And what did I think of Dallas? Awesome!! Its great turning up somewhere and it’s totally NOT what you expect. I was only there for 2 days but we covered a lot of ground. Stacey, who looked after me, made the plan of attack; hitting liquor stores large and small and later in the evenings it was time for the bars, tasting as we went along. I was surprised of the knowledge and enthusiasm of the staff in the stores and bars. With the mind boggling amount of product in each store, they knew both BenRiach and GlenDronach very well and were eager for any more information I could give them as well as loving the new expressions they were trying for the first time. The bars mostly had the emphasis on cocktails but again the enthusiasm and more so the palate on these guys was amazing.

The same was true in San Francisco, primarily I was there for the whisky festival, but we still hit the stores, bars and restaurants. One manager hurrying away after our tasting to update his blog with his latest news. I became a barman for the night thanks to a great restaurant “The 5th Floor” on 4th St pouring a selection of both brands. The 3 hours flew by and we managed to convert some malt lovers from their usual tipple to BenRiach and GlenDronach and opened up the single malt world to some that had never thought of trying it before. (I like it when you have to twist someone’s arm to get a glass in their hand and then seeing their faces as they fall in love with it).

It was “Fleet week” in San Francisco so plenty to do while I had a few days off to charge the batteries before heading to Canada most notably “Hardly Strictly Bluegrass” in Golden Gate Park which with my love of music was right up my street!! Bridge, pier, Chinatown, trams…. I squeezed it all in.

Then it was off to Toronto and Montreal: again only 2 days in each covering the ground but cover it we did!! In Montreal Martha had laid on two fantastic food paired tastings: one sit down 5 courses and one more informal canapé style. The chefs for each matching each mouthful perfectly with the drams, which reminds me I need to get a copy of the menus for both!! The shop tastings were also fantastic and due to demand, having to do back to back tastings in the signature store in the city centre proved we must be doing something right.

There are many other people and places in the last few months I would like to mention but if we are talking about ‘firsts’, Sweden stands out as it was a full on club tasting tour. 4 tastings in 4 days touring the central region of the country “Dalarna” which I found very similar to Scotland in its scenery; pine forests, mountains and lakes. I could have been back home but for one difference, instead of signs warning of sheep and deer the warnings were for Elk and Beaver! Unfortunately I saw no sign of either in the 1000 odd miles we must have travelled! Each tasting of around 80 people at a time had a great mixture of young and old, male and female, first time malt drinkers and well practiced die hards – many of whom I had previously met on their past pilgrimages to Scotland. Club tastings for me are great fun as you can go a bit deeper into the production techniques and cask descriptions so you always get some interesting questions throughout which I love. The last tasting particularly stood out as it coincided with the local brass band concert in the park opposite which culminated in a pyrotechnic display synchronised to Handel’s Royal Firework overture. With a dram in hand it was a great way to finish the tour! With gifts of elk salami (still in the fridge), dollar horses and a black owl wobbly balancing thingy on my bookshelves, I can’t wait to get back for another tour!!

As usual there is a lot I have missed out and I must thank everyone I have met along the way (most of them Belgian as it seems to have been my second home over the last few months)

Until next time!
Stewart Buchanan

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